A Queenstown-based Israeli – helping in Christchurch immediately after February’s massive quake – has shed new light on an Israeli spy controversy.
Long-time Wakatipu business owner and Israeli Shai Lanuel contacted Mountain Scene to share his version of certain aspects of the scandal from his ‘on-the-ground’ perspective.
As it stands, Prime Minister John Key tonight (Wednesday) described as “unusual” the hasty departure of some Israelis from Christchurch in the immediate aftermath of the February 22 shake, TV One has reported.
His comment comes after revelations in The Southland Times this morning (Wednesday) that the police national computer has been under scrutiny since the quake because of fears Israeli agents hacked into the system.
The Security Intelligence Services (SIS) ordered the checks on the computer system as part of an urgent investigation into what an SIS officer described as the suspicious activities of several groups of Israelis during and immediately after the earthquake, The Southland Times scoop by editor Fred Tulett reported.
Lanuel arrived in Christchurch the morning after the devastating February 22 shake, he tells Mountain Scene.
Lanuel says Israeli search and rescue expert Hilik Magnus had called him from Israel and urged him to gather a rescue team and get to Christchurch.
“He called me and said can you take one or two people with you and get up there and find out what you can until we land,” Lanuel says.
Lanuel had previously worked with Magnus during the 2008 search for missing Israeli Liat Okin whose body was eventually found near the Routeburn Track.
The Southland Times has claimed four Israelis in a van crushed during the quake became the prime focus of an SIS investigation. One of the Israelis was killed instantly while the other three managed to escape.
Two other Israelis Ofer Levy, 22, and Gabi Ingel, 23, died several blocks away under rubble.
Lanuel questions a claim that an unaccredited Israeli search and rescue squad was later confronted by armed New Zealand officers and removed from the sealed-off “red zone” of central Christchurch.
Lanuel says he believes this may relate to Levy’s uncle Yaquv – accompanied by an Israeli search and rescue volunteer – trying to access the red zone to take a picture of where Ofer died.
“He wanted to go take a picture of where his nephew died,” Lanuel says.
“So he went to the cordon and the police told him you cannot get in. He starts shouting…they told him ‘If you’re going to go in, we’ll arrest you’.
“The uncle was very frustrated but we did tell them it was the wrong thing to do – causing more trouble instead of helping. The police have enough things on their hands as it is at this time.”
Lanuel also queries a reference to an emergency meeting point set up by Israeli officials at Latimer Square – and reportedly attended by the three Israeli survivors from the van.
Lanuel admits he never encountered the van survivors as he arrived after they’d left – but says there was no official meeting point when he got there the following morning.
He understands rabbi had manned a post at Latimer Square prior to his arrival.
“There was no official set-up. I was sitting on the grass with a piece of paper writing the name of every Israeli and phone number because we had a list of 220 people and we’re trying to see who we can account for.”
Lanuel says as far as he was aware just four search and rescue volunteers came to Christchurch from Israel and he was in close contact with them during their stay. A separate forensics squad spent its time at the city morgue whilst Lanuel brought two Kiwis with him from Queenstown.
Tulett has reported the three van survivors took photos of their vehicle, containing their dead friend, before departing the scene – and were out of New Zealand within 12 hours.
His story also described the Israeli Government response to the three deaths – saying the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had tried contacting Key four times in one day as well as a flurry of diplomatic activity at the same time.